Associate dean for academic affairs
College of Liberal Arts
Dan LaRocque is the associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Liberal Arts and is starring in the Auburn University Theatre production of "Harvey," which runs through the end of this week. He did his undergraduate work at Minnesota State University Moorhead and his graduate work in the Professional Actor Training Program at the University of Washington in Seattle. After a fulfilling career as an actor based in New York City, working there and all over the country in theatre, television and film, LaRocque said he came to academe a bit by accident, working briefly as a guest artist/teacher at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., in the late 1980s. He came to Auburn for a similar nine-month appointment shortly afterwards, and that nine-month appointment is now in its 24th year. LaRocque has held many roles throughout his tenure at Auburn – performer, educator and administrator – and is now transitioning back to the stage and the classroom just in time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Auburn University Theatre.
1. What led you to theatre and why did you chose to pursue it?
I can't remember ever wanting to do anything else. Most theatre people will tell you – and I'm no exception – that going into theatre isn't really a matter of choice; it's more like something that's built into our DNA. In a way, we feel as if theatre chooses us rather than the other way around, at least when we're starting out. And that's pretty exhilarating. But of course the disappointments, frustrations and economic travails involved in the continuing pursuit of a career in theatre do take a toll, and if we're to continue, we have to actively, intentionally, wholeheartedly choose theatre in spite of these challenges. Fortunately there are many ways beyond a life on Broadway that we can continue to choose theatre, and the genuinely powerful connection we feel with others when we're sharing stories in the presence of a live audience never fails to remind us of why we were first drawn to the stage.
2. You are heading back to the classroom and the stage after working as the college's associate dean for academic affairs. How is the transition going?
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in the dean's office. I've had the privilege of working for two extraordinary deans in Anna Gramberg and Joe Aistrup, and you can't ask for finer colleagues than those I've known in CLA, from my fellow associate deans to our outstanding department chairs and CLA advisors, to our dedicated professional staff and graduate assistants. It's really been inspiring and gratifying to work with everyone here in the College of Liberal Arts, and there's no question that I'll miss the day-to-day interaction with so many great people.
But the main reason that my temporary appointment at Auburn has stretched to 24 years is the opportunity I've had to work directly with our outstanding students. I'm transitioning back to my home department this semester, and my time with students in the classroom and in evening rehearsals hasn't just reminded me of why I got into this in the first place – it's reignited a passion I've always had for working with students in an environment that truly feels like home. While I've had the good fortune to do many things during my tenure here at Auburn, the experiences I cherish most are those that I've had working in theatre with so many remarkable students over the years.
3. What is your character like in "Harvey"?
Elwood P. Dowd is a character I fell in love with as a child after seeing James Stewart perform the role in the 1950 film. While I've seen and admired many productions of the play since then, this is the first opportunity I've had to play the role, and I was thrilled when the director of the production, Tom Aulino, asked me to join the cast. Elwood is a character who draws on the better angels of our human nature and in many ways he's the sort of person we all aspire to be. He embodies kindness, civility, inclusion, warmth, humor, hospitality and – thanks to his six-foot, one-and-a-half-inch-tall invisible friend – a touch of genuine magic.
4. A new black box theatre is under construction. What does the addition mean to the theatre program and its students and faculty?
The addition of an experimental theatre space and adjoining dance studio to our existing facility is a huge benefit to our students and faculty, and its arrival is the perfect exclamation point to the centennial celebration of Auburn University Theatre taking place this year. More importantly, the addition reflects the outstanding commitment our leadership in the college and the university has to the performing arts here at Auburn. We're proud to be a part of Auburn's effort to elevate our performing arts programs as a means of celebrating the entire university and grateful for the institutional support that makes so much of what we do possible.
5. Why is the celebration of Auburn University Theatre's 100th anniversary important to you?
Any theatre that endures for a century is worthy of celebration, but this is particularly noteworthy because theatre has pretty much been a labor of love on Auburn's campus ever since it began. While it's grown from a purely extracurricular activity to a thriving major within the College of Liberal Arts, students here at Auburn are participating in theatre first and foremost because they are passionate about sharing it with others. And while I'm thrilled to be a part of a show in the 100th anniversary season, what's important to me is seeing how the students approach their work with such integrity and enthusiasm. If you're looking for the magic of theatre – at Auburn it's in our students, and I'm thrilled to be counted among their company.